In 1971 I hot-footed it down to Rice’s Market to pick up my copy of Easyriders magazine. Being 10 years old and a man of the world, I had no reason to believe I would later “march back in there” to return the magazine. My normally progressive parents found the content objectionable. With 20/20 hindsight, it was probably the naked women, not the counterculture overtones. Those were heady times. Peace signs and swastikas mingled, the nation was in turmoil and custom bikes were so damn cool. I blame my friend John’s older brother Mike for getting me into that jam at Rice’s. We’d seen his copy earlier in the day and I figured I should have one of my own.
A recent swap meet haul of old biker titles, Easyriders, Iron Horse and assorted others, bundled together with binder twine for five bucks has provided me a look back at my early exposure to the lifestyle with the benefit of few more years of wisdom. I still have questions; not about the half-naked women, but about some of the things that are often associated with the biker lifestyle.
What was our early fascination with swastikas? I know a percentage of it can be attributed to racism, but not all of it. Whatever it was, it seems to have faded with time. The old magazines reinforced my memory of 70’s swastikas, featuring ads offering swastikas as options to custom gloves. But why? By then World War II vets would be in their 50’s and not likely interested in illegitimate war trophies on their riding gloves. My uncle sure wasn’t. He was a decorated World War II vet and he was still riding during the 70’s. He didn’t even have riding gloves, let alone customized ones.
Bikers also seem to have been at the forefront of the drug culture for decades. But that’s difficult to see clearly when your entire demographic has been at the forefront of the drug culture since there was a drug culture. Rolling papers are still advertised in biker rags and while I actually know some people who do “roll their own” tobacco cigarettes, the majority of rolling papers are sold for marijuana use. Old issues of Field and Stream don’t feature shotgun pipes and coke spoons like old biker rags do. Neither does Golf Digest. Interesting. Among the most misguided product placement I saw in the old magazines was the Umbrella Pipe. This seamless synchronization of 70’s life essentials, replaceable BIC lighter, coke spoon, stash cap, joint adaptor and… umbrella? Seems to have gone the way of the pet rock. If they’d have lost the umbrella, it may have had a chance. The Rolling Roach Clip valve cap accessory rounds out our trip down drug paraphernalia’s memory lane.
Thirty years hasn’t really repaired the rift between Harley riders and import riders—be they European or Asian. Aside from the “my-bike’s-better-than–yours” mindset, I think this battle’s roots date back to World War II. I’m willing to bet there are no World War II vets actively riding today and most of their offspring have even relinquished the authentic dislike their fathers and grandfathers had for the enemy. Iron Horse magazine appears to have been Easyriders’ early attempt to appeal to riders of brands other than Harley or Indian back in the day. If you’ve ridden American iron exclusively during your lifetime, good for you, but not many, including me, can say that. Let’s get over it. For true independence, you can’t beat a Guzzi rider. They always go it alone.
On a lighter note, what has happened to our affinity for the iron-on transfer? This one-time mainstay of culture has faded faster than, well, a cheap 70’s iron-on transfer. I’d forgotten all about iron-ons from all walks of life. How cool to be reminded of them and it will be even cooler to actually use it! If you see someone wearing a white Hanes Tee with a 3/4 rear view of a chopper that says “Iron Horse” on the license plate, odds are it’s me. I’m heating up the iron right now.
Classifieds have also all but disappeared from print media and “Letters to the Editor” used to regularly include people looking for hard-to-find parts of the day or hard-to-find record albums! One reader was looking for Delbert McClinton albums. He should just call Don Imus.
Our music has certainly become more portable in the last 30 years. One feature article addressed the vexing problem of how to safely strap your record collection to your scoot. That was a lot more difficult than plugging our MP3 player into our bikes.
Not necessarily from the same issue or title, other things that had our attention in the late 70’s and early 80’s were the repeal of the nationwide 55 mph speed limit and the hostage crisis in Iran. We didn’t care much for Russia back then either. What goes around comes around.
Some subjects stand the test of time in the lifestyle and it’s safe to say there will always be time to look at pictures of women, long bikes, a just-married couple on a scoot, or a bro making a roadside repair. For the most part, you wouldn’t be able to tell if a photo montage was from the 70’s or today except for the telltale changes to the machinery.
And so I’m left to wonder; in another 30 years will the montages still be interchangeable? I hope so.